What does it mean to be gifted? And more important, why does it matter?

Amy Hoepfner

Book review: Gifted Grownups by Marylou Kelly Streznewski

This book was like washing the windows after a long, hard winter.  How did I not understand who and what I am?  I have lived with myself for forty-five years.


I was identified as gifted and talented in fourth grade after my family relocated to Montana from Kansas.  It meant a couple hours a week in a pull out group to explore, question, reason, and seek challenge in a different way from the regular classroom topics.  My mom recalls my saying how it was the first place in my life that I was not ashamed to know the right answers.

From there, it was honors classes in the upper grades, but no one talked much anymore about being gifted.  And except for simply thinking of myself as pretty smart, I didn’t think about it much either.

Something changed when my daughter was identified in second grade.  Suddenly, it was hereditary.  And I needed to find out what it meant so that I could help my daughter thrive.

So I started reading.  As I learned about my daughter, I learned about myself.

“Know thyself.”

– Someone a long, long time ago, maybe even in a galaxy far, far away

In Gifted Grownups, Marylou interviews one hundred gifted adults ages 18 to 90.  The stories they share illuminate not only how similar they are in how they interact with the world around them, but also how different each is in interests and abilities.  She collects their stories and uses them to highlight the struggles gifted adults have in the workplace, with relationships, and in simply accepting themselves.

Her book provides the perfect introduction to what it means to be gifted and can help a gifted person start to find peace with themselves and their place in society.  3-5% of the general population of the United States are gifted, but if it is such a gift, why, then, is up to 20% of the prison population made up of gifted adults?  By learning who we are, how we function, and what we need to be our best selves, we can begin to enrich our own lives and the lives of those around us.

There is so much more to being gifted than simply being smart.  I have a sneaking suspicion that intelligence is not a primary trait of giftedness, but merely a symptom of a brain that processes in a manner distinctly its own.  The realization that giftedness is less about measuring intelligence and more about finding ways to nurture an individual’s unique way of relating to the world…well, it shook me to the core.

The things that I thought were abnormal in me are precisely in normal limits for this varied population that lives on the fringes of convention.  Fiercely unique, it is our differences that need to be nurtured and allowed to blossom.  Unfortunately, for most of us, we have learned to hide and deny our differences in order to “fit” into society.

I now look back at interpersonal problems in my life and find a new compassion for myself…

…my boss who said I was too curt in my email communication and I needed to be more collaborative and encouraging

I am gifted …sometimes I lack patience for others in the workplace and it shows in my communication with them.

…my parents who couldn’t understand why I was trying to start a business when I’m very successful working for others

I am gifted …I am always looking for the next challenge in my job, in my career, in my entrepreneurship, sometimes without finishing the work I am currently doing.

…my ex-husband who barraged me about how full I kept my plate of activities and projects and hobbies and commitments.

I am gifted …I have so many interests, a few that capture my attention more than others, and I will run off on the rabbit’s trail without notice or hesitation.


Absorbing Marylou’s words, I am able to take the last step in a journey of many years.  I embrace my quirks instead of hiding them.  I have renewed confidence in my abilities.  I savor the joys of being in a romantic relationship with someone who is not only gifted himself, but also celebrates all the uniqueness I can throw at him.  I am better prepared to help my daughter navigate her teenage years and help her find those environments where she feels she can openly express her sparkly self.  I no longer hold myself to the expectations of others –I stay true to myself.

Giftedness doesn’t go away as we grow up.  If we do not accept and nourish our innate differences, we set up a life of struggle, isolation, and shame.  Marylou Kelly Streznewski has crafted a portal into understanding the needs of the gifted adult.  Read it for your children, your spouse, your coworkers.  Most important, read it for yourself.  It will be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in this shiny, new year.

You can order a copy of this book for yourself on Amazon here: Gifted Grownups